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Last night I had a good meal. Last night I had a meal that, a year or maybe a year and a half ago, would absolutely have qualified as fantastic. But today, now, these days, it was just average, all right and Ok, and left me disappointed.
My girlfriend and I eat out a lot. We cook a lot. We watch cooking shows and start thinking about dinner sometime just after breakfast. I know what I'm cooking for lunch tomorrow, and right now it's 6 a.m. the day before. We like food, and while neither of us is a great cook we do enjoy the process and ritual of preparing and eating meals.
I read the other day that many chefs lament their restaurant becoming over-hyped. That the aura surrounding some places, and the expectations of the diner, make it also impossible to live up.
I think to some extent this problem may be greater in places like Washington, or other large cities, where an abundance of better restaurants and higher salaries make it possible to eat a lot of very good food (and not simply "on an occasion."). And then there's the explosive growth of the food network, celebrity cooks and a plethora of cookbooks, making would-be culinary superstars of us all.
Point being, I have to think some of it's gotten out of whack. Why should I — a relative newcomer to the table — be so damn difficult to please? Is it really because I know my stuff? If that were the case, if my pickiness were fueled by experience and knowledge and ability, then who could fault me? But to be honest, it's not. It's almost like I'm standing on the shoulders of giants: a vision and assumed-knowledge that isn't rightfully mine.
The only reason this bothers me, really, is because I hate critics. And while I like to at least tell myself I'm capable of taking something for what it is, for accepting an artists' final Thing as a synonym for his Vision, this isn't the case with food. And like I said, it's not entirely justified, at least not in my case. I feel like when I eat out, I'm more critical than I have a right to be.
Maybe it's grade skipping. A few weeks ago, we ate at a restaurant that serves very simple, solid, basic and rustic food. It was very good, but because of a combination of what I was expecting and the prices on the menu I left unimpressed. Maybe I've gotten hooked on more complex, smooth, flashy food without ever learning to appreciate the basics.
On the other hand, maybe it's the basics -- when done really right -- that are the most difficult to appreciate. Perhaps even the hardest to do right. Simple is not the same thing as easy.
I don't want to be too hard on myself: It's fine not to like something, be it a painting or picture or book or a meal. Food is just one of those things where you put a lot of trust in the chef and agree to pay for something before you have any idea whether or not you'll really like it.
But I can't help feeling, sometimes, that it's just a little off kilter. I wish I could drop my expectations or critical eye (tongue) and just appreciate what comes out of the kitchen. The best meals I've had — and movies and books and music and all those things — the "best" are usually the ones where I'm uncertain what to expect, unsure of what comes next, and finding out little by little.-- Robert Walton